Acquiring Born-Digital Material

Steps to acquiring born-digital material for curators

General Considerations

  • Attempt to approach born digital materials in the same way as other archival materials.

  • Information gathered during collection development expedites ingest and processing; provides greater context to archivists, curatorial staff, and researchers; and provides greater support for preservation and access efforts.

  • You can always ask the Digital Preservation staff questions and / or have them talk to donors directly.

1. Initial Donor Conversations

  • Make it your regular practice to ask donors about their electronic records; these are often overlooked by donors unless the donation predominantly consists of born digital materials.

  • Ask your donor if they have any:

    • Physical media like computers
    • Hard drives
    • USB devices
    • Optical discs
    • Floppy disks
    • Digital files stored on servers
    • Digital files in hosted cloud services like DropBox
    • Email


  • If they do have electronic records, ascertain if they are appropriate for the collection. This is similar to how you would discuss the paper records in your preliminary conversations with a donor.

  • Briefly inform your donor of our processes.

    • The Digital Archives program ingest born digital material by two methods: digital forensics and file transfers. Digital forensics involves creating a disk image which is a bit by bit copy of the entire contents of a storage device including software and system files. For both ingest methods, we record all salient characteristics of the media, generate file directory listings, and ensure file fixity.
    • We may reformat or migrate files to new formats to support preservation and/or access.

2. Appraisal of the material

  • The more information you have about the electronic records the better. This information can be used to assist the Archives Unit staff members who will process the records and make it accessible to future users. Useful information covers:

    • Content (what is it and why is it valuable)
    • Context (of creation, use – ex: a draft or final copy)
    • Organization (file structure / file naming conventions)
    • Technical information (types of computer, software programs)


  • There are two methods to collecting this information:

    • Use the Donor Survey questions to ask your donor about their digital files. You can also ask the Digital Preservation staff to conduct this survey for or with you.

    • Ask the donor to fill out the Electronic Records Survey which is a Google Form. This form will be received by the Digital Preservation staff who will forward a copy to you.  

  • When you are satisfied that you’ve collected sufficient information to appraise the collection and make the case for acquisition, create a list of the born digital materials in the collection with any useful information. Once the acquisition is approved and the deed of gift is signed, proceed to step 3.

3. Schedule Transfer of Electronic Records

  • Notify the Digital Preservation staff that the acquisition has been approved - they will contact the donor to accept and schedule the transfer, working with other Special Collections staff members as needed.
  • When a transfer has been scheduled, they will inform you and share a Digital Material Transfer Form which provides an overview of the types of media in the collection, and the method and dates of transfer.
  • After the material has been transferred, the Digital Preservation staff will update the form with notes regarding the transfer and will verify that the files were transferred successfully.